Garlands a dazzling option for the holidays

Elaine Markoutsas
Universal Uclick

Although nostalgia still kindles much of the decorating fever for the holidays, there are modern options to satisfy those looking for pops of color other than traditional red and green and seeking inspiration for fresh ideas to incorporate with the family-standard, tried-and-true.

Vivid ornaments in magenta, turquoise, lavender and yellow strung with gold beads add a festive air to the arms of a chandelier. The One Hundred 80 Degrees Ball Garland is from Horchow.

Few probably deck their halls with boughs of holly — at least not the fresh variety, mostly because it's not available everywhere, its shelf life is short, and curling and wilting are not so attractive.

The aroma of fresh garlands made of Douglas or Fraser fir or pine, though, are hard to resist. Others love that southern favorite: magnolia leaves, with their shiny dark green foliage and distinctive cinnamon backsides.

If you prefer no-fuss garlands that can become part of your annual ornamentation wardrobe, that category has exploded. It's not really surprising, as all social mores have morphed to a casual modern standard. To wit, a welcome mat that says: "Come in if you have prosecco" (at

So if you want easy-maintenance greenery, there are convincing lookalikes. Even better, if you like them embellished, you'll find a choice of ornaments, pine cones, metallic balls, bells, berries and ribbons, even some with a pre-lit option. If you fret about missing that amazing aroma that comes with the real thing, just light a pine candle or squirt with a woodsy room spray (at Williams-Sonoma), which will make your home smell like an evergreen forest, with pine, cedar, patchouli and citrus notes.

Of course, garlands can be crafted from anything bendable -- so you can swag, drape and festoon over a variety of surfaces. Old-fashioned stringing of popcorn, cranberries or pine cones, mixing in lemons and oranges with greens for a popular Colonial Williamsburg style still is a popular family tradition.

Just the suggestion of such a humble approach — the stringing of iridescent capiz shell buttons on a Christmas tree (available at Ballard Designs) — is a charming nod to retro and homemade. One striking new look is that of black wooden beads (on trend with the elevation of matte black in home decor) at Crate and Barrel, and especially striking doubled up on a white marble mantel. And who says berries have to be red? A delicate spray of blueberries from Terrain can shift the decorating dynamic. They're enchanting around a gilt framed mirror.

In recent years, decorations have been tailored to interior decor styles. And with the range of colors and materials, from simple and textural to natural, including pine cones and berries, and even blingy — think gold, silver and copper beads or even glittery — there's a special appreciation for the artisanal and craft.

Garlands are an easy way to add a dash of seasonal cheer for Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's. What's cool about the variety and price range (from around $20 to $500) is that you can mix up styles that blend with your existing decor. Metallic shines in both traditional and modern rooms, adding warmth and sparkle, especially with candlelight. Suzanne Kasler's mercury glass ball garland does that with lustrous tarnished silver (from Ballard Designs).

For Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke of Madcap Cottage, an interior design business and home product development firm in High Point, North Carolina, known for mixing patterns, the holidays are the best time for busting out all their tis-the-season-to-be-jolly decorating moves.

"John is a mini Martha Stewart," says Nixon. "There's a whole section of our attic for Christmas, with vintage, like grandmothers' glass balls. We have two trees. It's very tasteful. But we go all out."

And there are garlands. "We mix it up — always some pine, some preserved magnolia," Nixon adds. "Often, we wrap them in trim — pompoms are a favorite for us. Trim is having such a big moment (in home decor) right now. So we like to bring it into the home at holiday time. We love grosgrain ribbon. Nothing better than bows."

Besides bows, tassels and fluffy pompoms are lending a hygge (pronounced HUE-guh, that Danish description for cozy), celebratory spirit. From single hues to variegated multicolors or pastels, as well as gold, standard scale to oversized, these garlands are versatile because they're easy to handle. One imaginative garland pairs faux fur pompoms that look like mini snowballs, with skinny red and white candy-cane-like strands in a sweet design from Anthropologie.

The look and feel of handcrafted is playing a larger role in garland design. The use of felt is reminiscent of homespun DIY ornaments and tree skirts. At Anthropologie, one colorful felt garland combines embroidered leaves and berries. Another at Crate and Barrel is a modern take on leaves and berries, with flat shapes and dimensional berries.

Nixon says that he totally gets the crafts

"We were kids of the '70s, so ... construction paper," he says. Like the handmade link garlands often made by children in school.

A festive garland at West Elm is crafted from gold-spattered black paper in pennant shapes. With its modern vibe and on-trend black-with-gold combination, the garland is perfect for ushering in the new year. Some metal chain garlands are so much like necklaces that you can imagine them dressing up a mantel all the way up to Valentine's Day.

Spread the cheer all over the house -- even in spaces that might get overlooked, like powder rooms, bedrooms, even the laundry room. Tiny bell garlands like those from Jim Marvin at Crate and Barrel can be nestled into bowls on a table (perhaps along with fairy lights) or festooned around a rolling bar cart or one spread out with hors d'oeuvres or dessert.

Colorful glass ornaments in unexpected brights like magenta, pink, citrus and turquoise separated by small gold beads from Horchow assume an important role nestled around the arm of a chandelier. A massive garland from Frontgate, dotted with glittery gold ornaments and ribbons, becomes lavish wall ornamentation above a brass console table.

Banisters, of course, can be dazzling with garlands; some like to hang stockings there as well. In the Frontgate catalog there is a particularly elegant example, as the stairs are lined with flameless candles and one railing hosts lush faux greenery.

Hang garlands above door frames (outside and in), around mirrors and chandeliers, across windows — a shock of red berries is equally powerful on a white or a black frame — around the posts of a four-post bed or at the footboard.

So enjoy whatever kind of garland delights your imagination ... anything to get into the spirit of the season. Before long, you might have visions of sugar plums dancing in your head.